Sunday 29 August 2010

Birthday(ish) marathon at Santa Rosa

After four weeks off and the small matter of a wedding and honeymoon, I decided it was time for a fast marathon. August has always been a month for marathon PBs for me (always at the Reykjavik marathon) so I wanted to keep that going and the only possible option was the Santa Rosa marathon in wine country, north of San Francisco. It's very flat and fast even with about 10 miles of gravelled paths to make the going a little tougher.

The last few weeks have been perfect but involved a lot of wedding cake, alcohol and lazing around by pools. A fun lifestyle and a great bit of relaxation, but not ideal marathon preparation.

I really wanted to get another PB and break 2:30, but it was never really on the cards. During the week I could barely run at marathon pace for a mile, never mind 26.2. So I thought I'd just go out fairly hard, see how close I could get to 1:15 at halfway of the two lap course, then try to hold on. Nice plan, but I had hoped to have some help on the first lap at least with some kind of pack. It didn't work out like that - the simultaneous half marathon had one guy shoot off but nobody else in either race went off below six minute miling so I was immediately on my own.

I've never run an entire marathon completely on my own and it was an interesting challenge. At least the conditions were perfect with no wind and cool temperatures. So I managed to hit 10k just over my 10k PB, break my 10 mile (57:40 now) and half (1:15:40 now) PBs then cling on to scrape in just under 2:36 for a season's best. The last eight miles were slower and I felt tired, partly due to overtraining, partly to lack of fitness from the last few weeks and partly to going out a little too fast for my fitness on the day.

I enjoyed most of it until I started struggling on the second lap. Going faster is fun and just one of the types of run that make up the whole package of the sport and make it so rewarding. I also had the bonus of winning by over nine minutes and getting prizes including a year's supply of bread (a bakery sponsors the race). Definitely a good day's work and a fun training run, even if not quite what I'd planned months ago when I optimistically thought I'd get more morning runs in during my honeymoon.

The run was a decent race, generally well organised and very flat and pretty fast. I got misdirected at the half way point and ended up running in the half marathon finish then asking the crowd/officials where the hell I should go (they didn't know) so I worked my way back to the race start and ended up adding about 0.2 miles on. Then I was almost tripped up as an official tried to move some cones on the course as I went past (when back on the proper route) and he swung one under my feet, hitting me. But small races get minor issues like these and it didn't affect my position or a PB so I can't really complain.

It was a shame to miss two of the biggest events this weekend - the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc 103 miler in the French/Swiss/Italian Alps (all three countries in one race) and the World 50k Road Championships in Gibraltar. But UTMB ended up being cancelled due to weather with a 60 mile version taking it's place for a chunk of the field the day after and Gibraltar's course was supposedly slow and awkward. There's always a trade off with races and I wish I could be in three places at once (ideally for free), but the local race was worth it. And on the day before my 30th birthday I got in a good session.

Sunday 1 August 2010

Skyline 50k Trail Run

You know it's time to cut back when you stop loving running. The last week or so I've just been so tired and lethargic that I haven't enjoyed my training runs or had the energy to do much at all during the day.

I skipped my run yesterday and had no desire to get up this morning when the alarm went off at 5am. Mind you, that's not too unusual. But when there's a local, historic (29th year!) 50k trail run with just under 5,000ft of climbing to get up for, I'd generally feel at least a bit excited even in my sleepiness. I very nearly decided to not go.

Even when I started at 7am, I just wanted it to be over so that I'd have my long run in for the week and the last longer one for a month. That's not the way to think about it and defeats the point of running if there's no enjoyment. There was a pack of six guys, including me, who started pretty fast along the easy trail along the edge of Lake Chabot. Faster than I felt like going, but I knew that some fast times had been run on the course, with a CR under three hour marathon pace on trails and with a fair amount of ascent. I let myself sit behind the five guys who kept up the effort and gradually pulled away over a few miles until they were all strung out.

Each steep climb of a few hundred feet made my legs feel useless, but at least I had some energy for the flats and downhills. But it took about 10 miles to feel any sense of fun in the race and I was tempted to just stop earlier and give my body a rest as I didn't feel normal. Not ill, just not apathetic and wanting to call it a day.

Luckily there was some great single track and the course had great views through Redwood Regional Park. It overlapped the trail I'd seen at the Redwood 50k and was a joy to run. I was soon glad I'd got up early and felt better, although I still couldn't take the steep hills and walked a few small sections. So by around halfway I'd run a while near Chikara Omine and went past him on a downhill. I'd met him at the San Francisco marathon a week earlier, plus he'd been at Western States. In fact, four of the top five finishers had run Western States five weeks earlier, so it shows there's a great ultra pedigree in this part of the world.

From that point I ran completely alone with nobody visible ahead or behind. I ran hard and picked up the pace to see if I could improve on the third place I was in, but had no luck. So the race finished with last year's top four making up four of the top five and me squeezed in at third. Joe Binder improved on his second place in 2009 to win in 3h37m, then Jean Pommier in 3h43m, me in 3h46m, Chikara in 3h51m and Victor Ballesteros in 3h59m.

The post-race bbq gave me a chance to meet these guys plus a few more locals. It had been a lot of effort and I'm very happy I got a chance to do such a cool, fun race. However, it took a while to get into and I need a break from racing so I can feel that excitement again. Am really happy with the time I got too, but I'm glad it wasn't a road marathon as I wouldn't have had much pace and it wouldn't have gone as well as last weekend.

Luckily I get a forced break anyway with my wedding in a week, then honeymoon. So that's something to really enjoy and take my mind off racing for a few weeks. Then I can come back refreshed and with a passion to run again, just as it should be. Every ultrarunner I speak to absolutely loves getting out on the trails and I want to feel like I did at Miwok again, where I was running along, taking in the view and grinning from ear to ear.